I recently watched an interesting SBS Insight programme called Pet Power, which offered insight into the lives of people living with Therapy Animals and it prompted me to connect in with our animal companions and ask them for more insight to be shared regarding their role as Therapy companions in our lives.
During the Insight programme, the host and guests acknowledged and questioned the relationships, regulations and benefits involved with humans and Therapy/Assistance Animals.
Various stories and perspectives came via people from many corners of society, all connected with training and/or living with Therapy Animals. The humans shared while their animal companions sat patient, proud and content, very happy that their missions were on the public’s agenda.
There are increasing variances in role titles assigned to these dedicated beings: therapy, assistance, service or helper animals being the most recognised. Regulation, rather than required task, plays a major role in how each title is assigned.
Dependant on the level of legislative hoops that an animal jumps through, what level of recognised training has been achieved and whether an animal is even perceived in law courts as beneficial, determine how an animal is labelled.
How can the therapeutic benefits of an impromptu purring cat, playful dog, or cuddly chicken be compared to an organised session with an animal on completion of a certified training course? Each is unique to that moment and energy exchange.
Therapy is “the treatment of disease or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative process” or “any act, hobby, task, program, etc., that relieves tension,” which suggests that anyone treating and/or relieving emotional, mental or physical tension, whatever its source, has claim to be a therapist.
Therapy is the aspect of the relationship which the Animals feel is core. All animals, humans included, provide therapy to others. Whether assisting autistic children and adults cope with life and social skills, relieving symptoms of depression, PTSD and trauma or providing greater independence for their human companion, those animals considered service/assistance animals also naturally provide therapy by improving the quality of life for their person. They increase opportunities for independence by releasing their person’s dependency on others and empowering them. Through unconditional assistance, service and healing, these animals create a better mental, physical and emotional existence for their person. They can, literally, give them their life back.
One guest on the Insight programme, who was challenged with symptoms of PTSD, shared how his experience with therapy horses enabled him to recognise and release behaviours associated with his trauma. Another guest, an owner of multiple residential homes explained how chickens had moved into their premises’ and were assisting some of the elderly residents socialise while alleviating symptoms of dementia in others.
The variance of mental, emotional and physical requirements of the guests called for a multispecies army of therapists. Therapy Animals are no longer being concentrated towards physical needs. Their compassion and understanding has opened them up to requests from humans experiencing mental and emotional challenges also.
Some dedicated animals are guiding people through specific challenging events during their lifetime and others are permanently supporting them through everything their life has to share.
As our demand for a higher quality of life creates a search for options, it subsequently creates an increase in demand for Therapy Animals. This can then domino into requests for regulations, which can gradually overwhelm the focus, question necessity and limit accessibility to all. Through balance we can promote a shift in how those animals incorporate themselves into our daily lives.
A pick ‘n mix of species has begun to filter into the social hangouts of humans, with people gradually acclimatising to sharing public spaces with other animals.
Humans often require understanding when accepting changing situations. By experiencing and understanding the purpose and relationship of a Therapy Animal in a social environment, acceptance becomes more comfortable. This understanding brings the actuality of animals being welcomed into society as equals a massive step closer. It shifts from being a boss and domestic servant style relationship to co-worker and inter-dependent in life.
There is also a very strong, acute public shift from seeing animals as passive workers to understanding them as interactive participants in the human/helper role. By passive, I refer to emotionally and consciously passive. Historically trained to function as extensions to a person’s physical, the emotional and mental support provided by Therapy Animals has often been overlooked by many humans outside that specific relationship. This is becoming more widely recognised and embraced. More humans, inside and outside therapy industries, are recognising that these animals actively participate on many levels in the relationship they have with their person.
Animals are being recognised and acknowledged on a much more profound level through their ‘work’, dedication and patience and the deeper, forgotten connection between the human species and others is being rediscovered.
This reconnection is being encouraged by many other species and, as humans recognise it, a huge, exciting shift in consciousness for humanity is occurring.
By understanding that other species are here to work with us, not just to obey commands and assist our physical needs, we create a massive change of consciousness.